What Are Landlords Responsible To Fix or Repair?

Last Updated: September 19, 2023 by Roberto Valenzuela

When a broken property feature contributes to a potential health or safety issue, landlords often have a legal duty to repair or replace it. This duty is only triggered if the landlord has proper notice and the issue wasn’t caused by the tenant.

What Do Landlords Have To Fix or Repair?

The standards for repair usually are intuitive: if there’s an issue that would lead to increased health or safety problems, the landlord usually has to fix it. For example, if a property’s heating breaks in winter, this nearly always requires prompt repairs.

Nuisance Tenants

Landlords usually aren’t responsible for nuisance tenants. In cases where they are, the nuisance must be something the landlord has legal power to reduce, and the landlord must have notice and opportunity to address the problem.

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Landlords must almost always address mold issues the tenant didn’t cause. Tenants are liable for the cost of fixing mold problems that their deliberate or irresponsible actions create. Mold laws are most often handled through statutes relating to general health and safety.

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Snow Removal

Landlord responsibility for snow removal varies dramatically by location. As a broad generality, landlords must clear snow in areas they control. This usually means clearing snow from common areas and sidewalks of multi-unit property. For single- and two-family dwellings, snow removal is often the tenant’s job.

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State and City Snow Removal Laws

Most places don’t have a statewide standard for snow removal, and statewide laws often cover only minor issues like dumping snow onto public highways. Residential snow removal is usually left up to individual cities and counties, and two cities in the same state may apply very different standards.

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Pest Control

Landlords are almost always responsible for pest control. In most cases, landlords must exterminate infestations the tenant didn’t cause, and also those which affect more than one residence. Testing for pest infestations usually isn’t a legal requirement.

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Bed Bugs

Landlords almost always are responsible for exterminating bed bugs, especially infestations the tenant didn’t cause or those which affect more than one residence. Several states have specific statutes covering bed bug issues.

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Landlords in a majority of states must fix appliances provided with a rental property. This isn’t a universal rule. Many states limit a landlord’s responsibility for features like appliances which aren’t required to rent the property out.

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Air Conditioning

Landlords in most states have to fix air conditioning that’s provided with the property. In some states, like Arizona, broken air conditioning is only a habitability issue if it’s during the warm season.

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Landlords must often fix windows in rental property. Problem windows may violate standards for security, weatherproofing, and/or basic habitability.

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Light Bulbs

Landlords usually aren’t required to replace light bulbs, except in common areas of multi-unit rentals. Lighting issues that can be fixed with a bulb replacement usually aren’t serious enough to qualify as health and safety issues.

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Landlords generally are required to fix any substantial plumbing issues that the tenant didn’t cause. Most states require plumbing kept in “good and safe working order.”

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Water Damage

Landlords are responsible for water damage the tenant didn’t cause. The severity of damage has an impact on the landlord’s duty. A landlord rarely needs to fix water damage that doesn’t have a substantial impact on health and safety.

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Features a Landlord Doesn’t Have To Repair or Replace

Landlords generally don’t have to repair or replace any features omitted from state and local habitability laws. For example, in states like Oregon, the law covers all supplied appliances. Georgia, by contrast, only requires repairs for the most basic rental features.

Sometimes the landlord doesn’t even have to fix issues which are in local housing standards. Repairs aren’t required for issues that are minor, caused by the tenant, or unknown to the landlord.

Non-Noticed Issues

Landlords usually don’t have to fix an issue until the tenant follows the proper notice process.

Tenants have primary control over rental property on a day-to-day basis. The law thus makes tenants responsible for spotting issues and requesting repairs. Courts will refuse to act if the tenant can’t prove the landlord has notice.

Issues Caused by the Tenant

A landlord usually doesn’t have to fix issues caused by the tenant. This applies even to serious problems. Tenants have a legal duty to fix issues they and invitees cause through deliberate or negligent acts.

The law applies a broad standard for causation. Suppose a tenant waits a long time to request repairs. If this causes the issue to be more serious and expensive to fix, a court may find the tenant responsible. It won’t matter that the tenant didn’t create the original problem.

Minor Issues

Landlords don’t have to fix minor issues that pose no risk to health and safety. For instance, a landlord must fix a broken heater, but not one that just heats slowly or uses a lot of energy.

The common standard from the URLTA, seen in states like Kansas, is “good and safe working order” for required and provided features. A feature usually must be either unsafe, or substantially nonfunctional, before there’s a duty to repair.

Timing can affect whether an issue is minor. A broken heater may be a minor issue in the summer, but not in the winter.